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Bengals mailbag: Kicking around options and picking kings

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The CJ readers and OBI listeners have been sending us a bunch of great questions lately and we take a crack at answering a couple of them.

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A major part of The Orange and Black Insider Bengals podcast here on Cincy Jungle is a listener question segment. It’s received so much traction lately that we have now opted to have a standalone episode for the listeners!

We kicked off our inaugural episode late last week and the engagement was awesome! There were other questions we couldn’t get to on the air, though, so we’re grabbing those in this mailbag post.

During the live Q & A portion, we answered questions ranging from doubts on Lou Anarumo as a first-time defensive coordinator in the NFL, as well as our favorite rookies, and even a discussion on Andy Dalton being the catalyst for some fans potentially jumping on the Browns bandwagon.

Have a listen at the audio below, or check out the video above!

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This was from the live Q & A comment section, courtesy of “Michaelgibson732”:

Why haven’t the Bengals been trying to find kickers to compete with Randy Bullock? He is not a very good kicker and sometimes long field goals or clutch field goals are needed to win games. Why do they think he is the best option? I think his season long last year was barely 47 yards?

As it currently stands, Cincinnati only has rookie Tristan Vizcaino in OTAs to compete with Bullock. Vizcaino’s resume isn’t all that impressive, hitting just 12-of-19 field goals in his final collegiate season, along with 48-of-51 extra points in that same 2017 season with the Huskies. He was with the Jets for a spell last offseason and hit a 61-yarder in minicamps, but couldn’t stick with anyone in 2018.

There seem to be a couple of reasons that the team didn’t bring in competition for Bullock this year. The first being that they sacrificed one of their 11 initially-slated picks this year. Seeing as how Zac Taylor wanted to start building the roster to fit his vision, using a pick on a kicker just wasn’t a priority.

Secondly, one of the few coaches the team retained from the Marvin Lewis era this year was Darrin Simmons. The Bengals have an immense amount of respect for him (he interviewed for the head coaching position), so if he’s trusting Bullock, Cincinnati is going to roll with his decision.

Lastly, Bullock has a manageable 2019 salary for a guy they seemingly trust. Per Spotrac, the veteran kicker’s salary is 14th in the league at $1.475 million.

But, as we all know, especially with the Bengals, you get what you pay for.

Bullock had a decent 2017 season, hitting 18-of-20 tries, but dipped to just an 82.3 percent clip (19-of-23) last year. He did he a 51-yard attempt against the Browns and another 49-yarder in the finale against the Steelers.

There is more to the overall equation, though. For any kicker in the AFC North, terrible weather is a factor to consider. Bullock has an 85.7% field goal rate the past three seasons with Cincinnati, which is right on par with Chris Boswell of the Steelers, who was a Pro Bowler in 2017, but struggled greatly himself last year.

The other facet is the Lewis factor. Bullock was either stuck on the sidelines for point opportunities, or thrown out there for low-percentage kicks on more than one occasion. So, is that poor in-game decision-making by Lewis, or did he realize that 50 yards and in is where Bullock can only be trusted? A little bit of both, perhaps?

Obviously, the hope is that with improved health and a much-improved offense, that Bullock will not only get more tries, but they’ll be in a more makeable zone because the unit moved the ball well. While it’s a position that could (and maybe even should) have been improved upon this offseason, it’s clear that the Bengals had bigger fish to fry, in the form of the defense, the offensive line and overall cohesion on both sides of the ball.

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It’s always great to hear from our pal Sam from across the pond. We’ll get the less Bengals-relevant question on Ronald Jones II out of the way first.

Speaking sort of tongue-in-cheek, it’s hard to fathom Jones having a worse year than he did as a rookie with the Buccaneers in 2018. He had just 44 rushing yards on 23 carries, one touchdown and a myriad of injuries. So, yes, he should vastly improve this year.

Making the horizon more bright for Jones is the arrival of Bruce Arians. David Johnson enjoyed his best seasons as a pro under Arians, so Jones could be a multi-faceted threat for Tampa Bay in 2019. Plus, Arians didn’t grab a running back in the draft, nor did the team add a high-profile free agent at the position.

On to the interception question, even though it was initially directed at my OBI co-host, John Sheeran (don’t worry, we’ll get his take, too). It’s an interesting one because Jessie Bates III had a rookie season filled with big plays, while William Jackson has had just one interception (albeit a pick-six against Aaron Rodgers) in his three-year career.

When I’ve brought up the lack of interceptions from Jackson, fans immediately point me to his above-average 73.4 grade in 2018, as well as his 2017 season for the PFF history books. They also tout that a lack of interceptions isn’t always the best barometer of a corner’s effectiveness.

While true, Cincinnati’s defense was tied for 18th with just 12 interceptions as a team last year, and ranked 20th in the category in 2017. The lack of big plays directly affect field position, point opportunities and, subsequently, the difference between wins and losses.

So, while getting off of the field on third down and holding premier wide receivers to low completion percentages is great, somehow lessening the value of turnovers in this new, pass-happy NFL seems counter-intuitive.

But, as we all know, quarterbacks can avoid certain corners if they are blanketing an option, thus lowering the opportunities for a potential interception.

And, that’s why I’d personally continue to say Bates will once again have more interceptions than Jackson in 2019. He’ll patrol many parts of the field and won’t come off of it often in Lou Anarumo’s varying system. Regardless, it’s very possible that both guys sniff a Pro Bowl berth if things go right for the Bengals this year.

Thanks for your questions! Join us every episode, or send us yours to be answered on air, or in this mailbag feature! We can be reached via email at theobinsider@gmail.com, by call/text at (949) 542-6241, or on Twitter @BengalsOBI.

If you’re unable to join us live for here at Cincy Jungle or YouTube every episode, all Orange and Black Insider content is available here on CJ, the Stitcher, Spotify and Google Play Music apps, our YouTube channel, as well as through Megaphone and, as always, on iTunes! You can tweet us @BengalsOBI or get in touch with us via email at theobinsider@gmail.com. Thanks for listening and go subscribe to our channels!